During a presentation on technology, nonprofits, and free agents at the Personal Democracy Forum, Allison Fine commented that asking an intern to handle social media affairs is a poor use of the intern’s time and doesn’t encourage organizational buy in and capacity building when it comes to social media engagement.  Instead, interns should mentor executives on how to use tools instead of simply throwing up a facebook page.

I like the idea of rethinking the role of a social media intern to create meaningful opportunities for both the intern and the organization.  I’ve noticed a growing interest in social media with many organizations wanting to jump in to reach and expand their audience, and young people wanting to help out in a way that is familiar and fun.  Aside from social media providing new opportunities for organizations and their supporters to act, it also allows the development of important skills such as verbal and written communication skills and the ability to collect and analyze data.

But a concern that I have is if young people, while knowing about social media, know how to use social media for organizational purposes.  For example, personally I have done a decent job of using social media to connect with others and build my brand.  How does this experience enable me to launch a social media campaign for an organization wanting to mobilize its audience?  And when organizations want to get into social media, how much thought have they put into the goals they want to achieve beyond getting more fans and followers?

The current way many organizations craft social media internships speaks to how they view social media in general–something anyone can do with little commitment in terms of time or money.  What if we reshaped this to be a learning opportunity for both the intern and the organization, with an emphasis on building social media capacity and interest within the organization and outside of it?  What would some of the basic crucial aspects of social media internships be?

  • Interns would make a long term commitment and be involved in organization, executives would commit to learning about social media
  • Interns would provide support on technical aspects of social media, executives would share current marketing strategy and reasons for approach
  • Interns would help gather data on social media sites to contribute to social media strategy, executives would share goals for outreach online and offline
  • Interns and executives would pull in outside supporters to help grow social media engagement and opportunities for learning
  • Interns and executives would communicate ideas and challenges with entire staff
  • Interns and executives reflect on skills and lessons being learned

At the same time, is the idea of a social media internship itself outdated?  In their presentation of their upcoming book Networked Nonprofit, Allison Fine and Beth Kanter suggests that free agents–people who are not attached to an organization but rather attached to the idea of using social media for social change–can help move organizations forward when using social media.  Should we emphasize collaborating with other organizations and people instead of dwelling in house?  Is this approach more empowering to young people wanting to use social media for social change and does it make sense when trying to scale impact?

What do you think of social media internships?  Are there examples of well done internships?  What are challenges in crafting them?  Are they even worth it?